Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Sexual Politics of Biotechnology: Fictional versus Scientific Narratives

Professor Rebecca Sullivan.

This paper will examine tensions between scientific discourses of embryonic or human reproductive technologies and their counterparts in the realm of fiction. It will look specifically at two novels by Margaret Atwood, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1985) and her most recent, ‘Oryx and Crake’ (2003), as existing on a continuum in which discourses of sexuality and reproduction have slowly been usurped by those of genetic replication. In addition, Michel Houellebecq’s ‘The Elementary Particles’ (trans. 2001), which integrates these two themes in disturbing and provocative ways, will also be examined. The narratives that they present will be examined against a backdrop of national and international policies on technologies such as cloning and xenotransplantation, and how they relate to developments in the field of reproductive and contraceptive technologies. While the former has tended to be divided from the latter in scientific discourse, cultural representations have insisted on their interdependency. More and more, western capitalist societies turn to the life sciences as the salvation of the human race against the ravages of disease, environmental damage, sterility and impotency. By contrast, fictional tales of science-run-amok, the destruction of the species and medical control of reproduction raise a fearsome spectre against this rational technologization of the body. While some find it easy to dismiss these tales as mere speculative fiction or nihilistic fear-mongering, at stake in their exploration is the ability gain a critical sense of the sexual politics of biotechnology, as it plays out in the general culture.


Professor Rebecca Sullivan  (Canada)
Associate Professor
Faculty of Communication and Culture
The University of Calgary

Rebecca Sullivan specializes in feminist media and cultural studies of sexuality and sexual politics. She is currently researching cultural representations and social discourses of biotechnology and HRT. Her book, The Other Sisterhood: Nuns and Postwar American Popular Culture, will be published in 2005 by University of Toronto Press.

  • Biotechnology
  • Reproductive Technologies
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Michel Houellebecq
  • Science Narratives
  • Sexual Politics of Reproduction

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)